3D Printing…. What is it good for?
If you are an avid reader of 3DPrint.com, you probably know all of the answers to this question. 3D Printing has been used to create thousands of different useful designs. Whether it is an automobile part that is no longer being produced, or a customized action figure for your little boy, those people who own or work with 3D printers know that the potential is there.
With this said, probably some of the most prolific and awe inspiring things that have been created on 3D printers are prosthetic devices. Every week, it seems as though I am covering yet another tear jerking story about a little boy or girl who has gained use of both of their hands for the first time in their lives, thanks to 3D printing. These marvelous stories would not exist if it weren’t for a group of volunteers called e-NABLE. The organization is responsible, in one way or another, for a huge proportion of the 3D printed prosthetic hands that are out there, thanks to open source designs such as the Cyborg Beast, created by Jorge Zuniga, and the Ody Hand, created by Peter Binkley originally for a little boy named Ody (Odysseus).
A truly inspiring story started back in January, for two teachers from Marshall Simonds Middle School in Burlington, Ma. Jourdan E. Marino, an 8th grade science teacher, and Kevin Kille, a 6-8th grade TechEd teacher, began working with 3D printers and then decided that they wanted to put the technology to good use. Thanks in part to e-NABLE, they connected with a woman named Rachel Grieco, whose 7 year old son Frankie was in need of a prosthetic hand.
Frankie was born with a congenital amputation of his right hand, and he was begging his mother for one of the 3D printed prosthetic hands that he had seen. She came to e-NABLE and asked for help, and that’s when Jourdan Marino, and Kevin Kille saw their opportunity to use their 3D printing technology to do some good.
“Kevin introduced me to this whole idea,” Marino told 3DPrint.com. “He was my TechEd teacher almost 20 years ago at [Marshall Simonds Middle School], the school I am now teaching at. Its a great partnership. Kevin knows the TechEd side really well, so when we need something drilled or fabricated he often ‘quarterbacks’ that job. We brain storm all the time! I feel like he and I are lab partners and students again!”
Kille has been teaching at Marshall Simonds for over 25 years and had strategically stocked up enough materials to get through his last year before retirement. He took a gamble on spending his entire school-year budget on a 3D printer, which he had no previous experience using. Marino came in, bringing his computer skills, to pair with Kille’s fabrication skills. “It gelled into a perfect May/December relationship, both benefiting from each others experience,” said Marino.
Marino and Kille are joined by 6-8th grade students at their school, who are part of a twice-a-week activity period, called ‘activity block’. They have been helping out by using their school-provided iPads to research ideas on the internet. “The students in my class and Mr. Kille’s, have been up to date every step of the way, and often asked us ‘so, you guys think this will work?’. Our reply was always, ‘we’ve never done this before, so we’re just going to keep moving forward and cross one bridge at a time’.”
The process was quite long. It has involved many iterations of different 3D printed hands, and encompassed several meetings with Rachel and Frankie, in order to get molds taken of Frankie’s arm, and to have him try on different prototypes.
Like, a previous story that we reported on, where Odysseus did not have enough strength in his arm to fully control his prosthetic hand, Marino and Kille ran into this same problem with Frankie. The 3-fingered Ody Hand, which was designed specifically for Odysseus, requires a lot less strength in order make the fingers bend. This is because there is less tension required on bending 3 fingers as opposed to 5.
Marino and Kille have decided that the Ody Hand would at least temporarily be the solution for Frankie, until he can build up enough wrist strength required to control a 5-fingered Cyborg Beast. “It may serve as a gateway hand, to help him develop strength for the full 5 finger model,” Marino explained.
In the mean time, Kille has used his knowledge of wood working to build an exercise machine that will help Frankie build up his strength. It utilizes a spring scale that measures force in Newtons, which was obtained from one of Marino’s classroom lab stations. “We really want him to get strong enough for the Cyborg Beast; it really is a work of art and will enable Frankie to do so much more,” said Marino.
Kille and Marino have been using a MakerBot Replicator 2 which cost them approximately $2,000, along with spools of 3D printer filament which run them approximately $40. “So that versus a $25,000 prosthetic that Frankie will out-grow, is a simple choice,” said Marino.
The typical 3D printed prosthetic hand costs around $50 to create, from scratch. It is printed out in separate pieces (1 spool of filament creates about 12 hands) and then it is assembled using several screws, and some cables, which attach to the fingers. When the wrist bends, the cables are pulled, thus bending the fingers on the man-made hand. This sure is a heck of a lot more affordable than spending $25,000 – $100,000 for a traditional prosthetic device.
Marino and Kille plan to continue working with Frankie until they have him in the best prosthetic device possible.
Kits with the pieces needed to assemble these 3D printed hands, once printed, can be purchased via 3DUniverse, thanks to another e-NABLE member, Jeremy Simon.
Discuss this story, and let us know what you think in the discussion thread on 3DPB.com.